One a penny, two a penny, hot cross buns! 

It’s Easter weekend here in Australia. I’m not religious but I am culturally Christian and to me Easter means spending time with family and friends, eating chocolate and enjoying the autumn weather.

Traditional Easter food in Australia almost always includes lamb, maybe some fish. Chocolate Easter eggs, bunnies and chickens are a favorite with the kids and everyone has their preference, be it a Cadbury cream egg, a Lindt bunny or artisan chocolate in flavours like salted caramel.

But one thing that almost all Aussies love is the hot cross bun. Traditionally these are spicy and filled with currants and mixed candied fruit peel. In the last few years though, chocolate hot cross buns have become really popular. They appear in the supermarkets in early January and by the time it’s Lent all the bakeries have them too.

This year I have been baking sourdough bread using a starter from Celia at Fig Jam and Lime Cordial. I’ll post about my bread making adventures one of these days soon, but for now I’ll talk about making hot cross buns. Celia has an easy recipe for sourdough buns that became my starting point. But because  my kids far prefer the chocolate hot cross buns I tinkered with the recipe, adding dried cranberries instead as well as a good handful of chocolate chips.

With sourdough, the proving takes a lot longer, so I got the starter going the day before and let it rise overnight. Luckily they don’t take long at all to cook. And even less time to eat, especially with three hungry kids and a husband hovering around the kitchen looking hopeful.

Sourdough hot cross buns with cranberries and chocolate 

Makes 12 buns

200g sourdough starter (at 166% hydration i.e. fed at ratio of 1c flour to 1c water)

160ml milk at room temp (I used light milk as that’s what I had)

500g bakers flour

8-10g fine sea salt

60g brown sugar

0.5 tsp ground cinnamon

60g butter, melted and cooled

2 large free range eggs

100g dried cranberries

Zest from one orange

50g choc chips or chopped chocolate

Cross: 2tb self raising flour mixed with 2tb water

Glaze: 2tb milk and 2tb sugar, plus a dash of vanilla paste
Combine all of the dough ingredients except the chocolate in a large bowl. Use hands to squelch it all together until a rough dough forms — it’s quite a stiff dough. Cover with plastic wrap and sit for about 30 minutes. Then knead dough for 1-2 minutes in the bowl, cover again and leave overnight.

Preheat oven to 240c. Tear off a piece of baking paper big enough to line a metal rectangular baking dish (about 23 X 20cm) — no need to cut it to shape, just fold in the corners loosely.

Turn dough out onto floured bench. Sprinkle the chocolate chips over the top. Fold the outside thirds over the middle and repeat several times to knead the dough and mix the chips in. Cut into 12 pieces, roll each into a ball and place into baking dish in 4 rows of 3. Cover with a tea towel and allow to rest in a warm place.

Allow buns to rise for 30-60 mins, then pipe the cross paste across each bun. Spritz the buns with water and put into oven, immediately turning temperature down to 220C (with fan). Bake for 10 minutes, then turn oven down to 200C and bake for another 10 minutes.

While the buns are baking, combine the glaze ingredients in a small saucepan and bring to a simmer.
Brush the glaze generously over buns while hot, wait a couple of minutes and brush a second coat over. Cool on a rack.

Eat with lashings of butter!

1. Feed your starter a couple of times to get it ready. With my starter I feed 1/2 cup with 1/4 cup each of bakers flour and filtered water at about lunchtime. In the late afternoon I feed again with 1/2 cup each of flour and water. I set the dough up mid evening, when the starter is very bubbly.

2. If you don’t have a starter, you can make the buns with yeast instead. I haven’t done that though, so you’ll need to find a recipe yourself!

3. When you roll the buns into a ball, try to keep most of the fruit and chocolate inside the bun as they burn easily.


Easter feast

For the first time in a few years we were home for the Easter weekend. And, as it happened, so were some of our very good friends. So plans were made to spend some time together on Easter Sunday. To make it even more fun, an old friend from our Californian days was in town for a family event, and he joined us too.

What better to serve at Easter than roast lamb? But this wasn’t just any roast lamb. I got boned lamb shoulder from the local butcher, and roasted it slowly in lemon juice, herbs and olive oil, until the meat was falling apart. A quick blast under the grill to crisp up the edges and then a scattering of creamy salty feta cheese to round it off. Yum! It was beautifully complemented by quinoa and barley salads brought by our guests, as well as baby roast potatoes.

After a week of warmer weather, we headed back to winter over the Easter weekend, and to warm us all up I made a bread and butter pudding using up some of the hot cross buns we had left over. I used chocolate hot cross buns—not very traditional but so delicious—buttered and soaked in a simple custard before baking. It was a chocolate-y oozing mess of comfort.


Slow-roasted greek style lamb shoulder

This recipe is really a combination of two Karen Martini recipes published a few years ago in The Age’s weekend magazine Sunday Life.

2 lemons, zested and juiced
large handful of fresh oregano, roughly chopped
2-3 stalks of fresh rosemary, chopped
6-4 cloves of garlic
1 tbsp sea salt
100 ml olive oil
freshly ground black pepper
1 lamb shoulder, boned and trimmed of excess fat
100 g feta cheese 

Preheat the oven to 160C.

To make the marinade, combine the lemon juice and zest, chopped herbs, and olive oil in a jug. Pound the garlic to a paste in a mortar and pestle with the sea salt and add it to the marinade along with black pepper to taste.

Open out lamb shoulder in baking tray and pour marinade over it, making sure you get it under all the folds. Cover the tray tightly with foil.

At this point you can let it marinate in the fridge as long as overnight or you can put it in the oven straight away. Cook for 3-4 hours until the lamb is falling-apart tender.

Remove from the oven and pour off half of the juices. Turn oven up to 250C and put the grill on and place lamb back under grill to brown for 5 minutes until the edges are crisp.

Remove from the grill and rest for 10-15 minutes, then shred into chunks using a fork. Transfer to a serving platter and scatter with crumbled feta cheese.


Chocolate hot cross bun bread and butter pudding

6 chocolate hot cross buns, slightly stale
unsalted butter
2 c milk
3 eggs
3/4 c sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 tbsp butter, extra 

Preheat the oven to 170C. Butter a large ceramic or glass baking dish (approx 20 X 30 cm).

Split each hot cross bun in half and generously butter each slice. Tear or cut each half into 4 pieces and place in the baking dish in one layer.

Whisk together the milk, eggs, sugar and vanilla extract until well combined. Pour evenly over buns, pushing the pieces down into the mixture. Dot the top with butter.

Set the pudding aside for at least 30 minutes to allow the liquid to really soak in to the bread.

Bake for 40-45 minutes until puffed and golden. Remove from the oven and sit for 10-15 minutes before serving with icecream, cream or even a tangy yoghurt.



1. One lamb shoulder will easily feed 4-6 people. And the pudding serves at least 8, as it is very rich and a little goes a long way!

2. You can serve the lamb with fresh pita bread, tzatziki, and a grain-y salad.

3. For a variation on the pudding,make it with traditional fruit hot cross buns instead. Try adding some orange zest to the custard mixture or scatter some chunks of 70% chocolate through the buns.